The Mountaineers lost two impact forwards, but a veteran backcourt led by Daxter Miles Jr. and breakout seasons from big men like Esa Ahmad should put them back in contention in the Big 12.
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Bob Huggins had to stand perfectly still for three hours this summer as the university worked to create a nearly life-size hologram of the 63-year-old coach in the basketball facility. It would be the only moment of stillness in an off-season full of player movement.
The Mountaineers lost forwards Jonathan Holton and Devin Williams, their two best players and rebounders, as well as Big 12 sixth man of the year Jaysean Paige. Williams, who averaged 13.3 points and 9.5 rebounds, was their go-to player late in games. Holton was a key offensive rebounder (3.6 offensive boards, 19th in the nation). Their replacements will come from a group of forwards, but the leader thus far is Esa Ahmad. Though the 6' 8" sophomore averaged just 4.9 points last season, Ahmad—a former No. 46 recruit—is primed for a big year.
“He’s playing really well right now,” says Huggins. “He gives us size on the perimeter. A lot of people are playing three guards. Esa is a guy who can guard a smaller guy and use his height to his advantage.”
Ahmad will be joined by senior forwards Nathan Adrian, who shot 40.9% from three, junior Elijah Macon, who averaged 3.0 rebounds in 13.2 minutes last year and senior Brandon Watkins, who played sparingly after returning from a left ACL tear.
West Virginia will continue their “Press Virginia” scheme that led to ranking first in steals and second in turnovers forced. The key, says Huggins, is continuing to be a good rebounding team. The Mountaineers finished second in offensive rebounds last season, and will need to rely on the new frontcourt to keep it up. Says Huggins: “We got to continue to do the things we’ve been so good at.”
X-Factor: Freshman forward Sagaba Konate
After leaving Mali in 2014 for Pennsylvania, Sagaba Konate was not highly recruited out of high school. But the 6' 8" freshman forward is earning rave reviews from the coaching staff about his defense. “He’s a very good shot blocker, and he’s got really good physical strength,” says Huggins.
Coach’s Take: Bob Huggins
“Talking to [Sports Illustrated] means that everyone thinks we’re going to get back to the NCAA tournament. I’m not sure. Our three guards are good. And they put a bunch of work in at continuing to get better. We played some guys in positions they hadn’t played in, and I think they’re much more comfortable now. When you play at the pace we play at defensively, [the guards have to] somehow get slowed down and under control on offense. I think that was a work in progress as well. They’ve been much, much better.
“Nate Adrian is playing really well. He’s shooting the ball well. We’re in good shape. We got to continue to do the things we’ve been so good at, continue to defend the way we’ve defended, continue to create turnovers like we have. And we have to continue to be one of the better rebounding teams in the country. If we do that, we’ll be fine.”
Projected Top Seven Scorers
|Daxter Miles Jr.||Jr||SG||12.0||3.2||1.6||112.8||20%||67%|
Projected Big 12 Standings
|Conference Rank||Team||Proj. Conf. Record||’15-16 Conf. Record|
More scouting reports: 1. Duke | 2. Kansas | 3. Kentucky | 4. Oregon | 5. Villanova | 6. North Carolina | 7. Virginia | 8. Wisconsin | 9. Gonzaga | 10. Arizona | 11. Purdue | 12. Xavier | 13. Louisville | 14. Syracuse | 15. Indiana | 16. UCLA | 17. California | 18. NC State | 20. UConn